It is that time again, when we all look more stupid than normal (yes, Sarah picked Chelsea last season). Predictions…
Easy to start: Who will win the league?
Sarah Winterburn: Manchester City. I have massive doubts because of that central midfield but then I think about Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero and the drool starts streaming down my chin. Factor in some ludicrously attacking full-backs and I think they might just score 100 goals again and give nary a thought to the unnecessary faff of defending.
Daniel Storey: Manchester City. I picked them last year and can’t change now. The only one of the top three in the betting who also had the workload of Champions League football last season, which makes a difference.
Matt Stead: Manchester City, inspired by Player (and bargain) of the Year, Kyle Walker.
Ian Watson: Manchester United. Jose’s second season.
John Nicholson: Jose always wins in his second season, doesn’t he? I’ll back Manchester United for that reason but also because that side is a seriously huge slab of man meat and I think that counts big in the Premier League. It’ll also give Glenn Hoddle an opportunity to regularly drag out his weird phrase “he’s out-physicaled him”.
Steven Chicken: Manchester City. They obviously underperformed last year but still picked up 12 more points than the season before. Walker and Mendy solve the most glaring issues, even accounting for the centre-backs occasionally looking like they were distracted thinking about puppies or something. The options they have in their front four are ridiculously good.
And now the rest of the top four in order, as is traditional?
SW: Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. The Wembley factor coupled with a seriously thin squad means that Tottenham are discounted and Liverpool’s narrow advantage over Arsenal disappears when you factor in Champions League football. Note: Nobody ever gets this right.
DS: Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham. I think Liverpool will get borked by the extra matches. I’d have Arsenal in there but I didn’t pick Spurs last season and am trying to make amends.
MS: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea. Jesus, this season’s tough.
IW: Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool. Chelsea will have at least 10 extra games this season and with a squad no bigger than last year, there’s surely no way they’ll be as fortunate with injuries. Spurs are away from home all season so unless Pochettino does something unexpected – though anything at all will do at the moment – hey’ll struggle to maintain their record of the last two years.
JN: Manchester City, Chelsea and then Arsenal, the traditional 18 points off the top.
SC: Chelsea, Manchester United, Spurs. I’d have Spurs as high as second if I didn’t think their move to Wembley is going to effect them really badly. A caveat: if Liverpool crash out of the Champions League to Hoffenheim at the qualifying stage, I’m putting them in in Spurs’ place, if I may.
Which three clubs are going down, down, deeper and down?
SW: With heavy heart I say Huddersfield Town, but I think Brighton will be even worse. And that sorry pair will be joined by Burnley, who rode their luck last season and have since lost their best defender.
DS: Brighton, Huddersfield and then one of Burnley or Swansea. I’ll go Burnley. Sorry, Sean.
MS: Brighton, because I’m not convinced by any of their signings. Burnley, because Sean Dyche will be too weighed down by the increasing amount of chips on his shoulder to properly manage them. Watford, because the one season I stop tipping them for relegation will be the season it actually happens, and I’m not prepared for that to happen just yet.
IW: Brighton, Burnley and Swansea or Huddersfield. Fine, Swansea.
JN: Newcastle United – get the straitjackets ready. It’s going to be an Ashley meltdown season again. Burnley – their home form can’t be as good again but their away form could be as bad. Huddersfield Town – ‘cos they’re ickle and nice and will return to the real best league in the country with a ton of cash.
SC: Brighton, who look every bit a Championship team doing the West Brom/Burnley yo-yo thing. Burnley, who look incredibly unimaginative and are now without their best player from last season. The last one…my head is saying Huddersfield, but I’m going to ignore that and say Swansea.
Which club will do surprisingly pleasant things?
SW: Do West Ham count? I think theirs will be the best year-on-year improvement with new stadium woes dissipating and Marko Arnautovic an excellent signing. I could easily switch to Crystal Palace if they signed a decent centre-half, mind.
DS: I’m not sure it’s that surprising, but I think Leicester will finish eighth. Actually, that would be quite surprising.
MS: Whether it can be termed as ‘surprisingly pleasant’ or not, I’m not sure, but Crystal Palace will be the club to improve their league position the most.
IW: Newcastle will have a drama-free season in mid-table. And West Ham will be top eight, which probably falls in the ‘surprising’ bracket more than the ‘pleasant’ one.
JN: Brighton seem like this season’s Bournemouth. We’ve seen before how a manager that can infuse a collective spirit can outweigh bigger spenders. I like Chris Hughton and he seems to know how to put a team together as a unit.
SC: Bournemouth. They’re in their third year and finished ninth last season, so they shouldn’t come as a surprise but they still will.
Top scorer, please?
SW: Having resisted for three years, I am now ready to embrace Harry Kane.
DS: I’m sad to say I can’t have Romelu Lukaku at quoted prices, so I’ll be a massive traitor and go for Alexandre Lacazette. I mean it’s obviously Harry Kane, but y’know.
MS: I will gladly fight everyone who doesn’t think Gabriel Jesus will finish top scorer this season. He is a beautiful boy.
IW: Another shootout between Kane and Lukaku – *tosses a coin* – Lukaku.
JN: Romelu Lukaku. 24 league goals.
SC: You’d be a complete and utter moron not to say Harry Kane, unless Sarah hasn’t, in which case it’ll obviously be a tight-run thing between Kane and whoever she’s said. Obviously.
The best signing, if you will?
SW: Bold call: Alexandre Lacazette will outscore both Alvaro Morata and Romelu Lukaku. I fully expect to see this idiocy/insight referenced in about seven different 16 Conclusions before the season is out.
DS: Sead Kolasinac already looks like he’s settled in, but I’ll go for the alternative option of Pascal Gross. He cost a sixth as much as Jordon Ibe, and he’s actually good from the little I’ve seen of him.
MS: Jairo Riedewald and Roque Mesa will be linked with at least one top-six club by January, while Vicente Iborra looks like a lovely purchase at just £12m. I say that because he seems cheap, not because I actually ever remember seeing him play.
IW: Javier Hernandez. He’s lovely, isn’t he? Unless Gareth Bale comes back before the deadline. In that case, him.
JN: If I’m right and Lukaku scores the goals to win United the league, then he will be the best signing, no matter how much square sausage you could buy for £75m. A more left-field one: Kelechi Iheanacho is a great buy for Leicester City. His goals will consolidate a top-half finish.
SC: It’s really unsexy but Asmir Begovic to Bournemouth for £10m is a fantastic bit of business. He’s a thousand times more dependable than Artur Boruc, who always puts me in mind of a goalkeeper belonging to someone who doesn’t really get how the triangle button works in FIFA.
And which new signing will stink the place out?
SW: Wayne Rooney. Why is anybody pretending it will be anything other than a disaster?
DS: I can’t help thinking that Alvaro Morata will take the type of time to settle that you don’t really get in the Premier League. Also, West Ham are paying Pablo Zabaleta £90,ooo a week and I worry that his knees have gone.
MS: At this stage, it is probably best to just ignore the transfer fees involved and consider players who will disappoint in regards to why they were signed. In which case Alvaro Morata, purchased to replace a 20-goal striker, will struggle to replicate that record, and Andrew Robertson, signed to be an actual left-back, will have been dropped at least once by February.
IW: I suspect Victor Lindelof will take time to adjust. He’ll probably be fine eventually, but it won’t be pretty at first.
JN: It’s an obvious one: Wayne Rooney. There’s no way he should be anywhere near the Everton starting 11 if everyone is fit. In that Europa League game he looked like he’d barely ever played football, let alone been any good at it. Then again, he may not even play, and so not even get a chance to stink the place up like a Christmas sprout under the fridge in January.
SC: My answer is Wayne Rooney and I don’t think I need to go into why.
Who will win the PFA Player of the Year award?
SW: POTY is usually won by a title winner – and rarely by a defensive player – so come on down, Kevin De Bruyne.
DS: Kevin de Bruyne is my value tip. And I said so here.
MS: Do you listen? Kyle Walker. But Paul Pogba will come second now his price looks cheap.
IW: Pogba. If United win the title, it’ll be because he’s been brilliant.
JN: I’ve got a theme and I’m sticking with it. Lukaku again. Though I wouldn’t mind betting it might be a Benjamin Mendy-shaped defender.
SC: I’m tempted to double-down on Harry Kane but instead I’ll say Gabriel Jesus to scoop the player/young player double.
Sarah picked Tom Davies as last season’s breakout star. What about this season?
SW: After picking Tom Davies largely because of his hair, I am this year stupidly using logic to pick Trent Alexander-Arnold. A decent start at right-back in the absence of Nathaniel Clyne really could keep him there.
DS: Tough question, this. I think that Trent Alexander-Arnold might start the season at right-back for Liverpool, and there are those at Anfield who think he might be the next local boy made good.
MS: Marcus Edwards. He won’t play a bucketload of games, but, as he turns 19 in December, Mauricio Pochettino might look to hand him a few opportunities here and there.
IW: Tammy Abraham. OK, he ‘broke out’ at Bristol City last season, but he’ll get double figures in the Premier League this year.
JN: At some point one of the 427 young players Chelsea have sold or sent out on loan will come good so let’s go with Dominic Solanke at Liverpool.
SC: God, this is such a banana skin. I’ll plump for Liverpool’s Dominic Solanke though, especially if Philippe Coutinho leaves.
First manager to leave?
SW: I cannot see Mark Hughes surviving into November. He simply cannot afford a slow start and Stoke’s fixtures scream ‘slow start’.
DS: Mark Hughes. Stoke don’t play a home game against a team who finished below them last season until December 2. Given that Stoke beat one team above them last season and have lost Marko Arnautovic, Hughes might be a bit buggered.
MS: Just to let you know, I’ve correctly predicted this two years in a row. So put all of your money on a grisly Mark Hughes to go on November 4 after a 3-0 home defeat to Leicester.
IW: Hughes again.
JN: It’s Rafa, isn’t it? Mike Ashley is a specialist in breaking nice things. He probably doesn’t even like Rafa because he knows the Spaniard could eat and drink him under the table. It’ll be a basket case of a season for the Magpies ending in relegation again.
SC: I’m going to say Slaven Bilic, on the basis that he’s the only one of the current crop who spent a significant spell of last season looking like he was on borrowed time.
Champions League winner, please?
SW: Real Madrid. Every other big club has significant flaws.
DS: It’s so hard to look beyond Real Madrid, but I’ll try. Nope, I tried. Real Madrid. Again.
MS: Liverpool. City, United, Arsenal and Chelsea will finish in the top four and thus qualify for the Champions League, with Tottenham finishing fifth, Liverpool sixth and Everton seventh. The Toffees will win the Europa League and celebrate a return to Europe’s top table, before Liverpool beat Barcelona in the Champions League final thanks to a Philippe Coutinho goal.
IW: Juventus. Because I refuse to live in a world where Gigi Buffon retires without a Champions League winner’s medal. If the worst happens, Real Madrid to beat PSG in the final.
JN: As much as it would displease me, I think Manchester City will have a good run at it this year. Pep Guardiola has to be good at some point, doesn’t he?
SC: Paris Saint-Germain. Their home record in the competition is utterly ridiculous, they’ve reached the last eight in four of the last five seasons, and now they have Neymar.
Finally, I’m giving you a crisp £20 note to use on something happening this season. Where does it go?
SW: That £20 will go on Alexis Sanchez claiming most PL assists. Once he gets his head around staying, he will relish Lacazette’s movement.
DS: Manchester United to be top at the end of August at better than 3/1. At least it will be over by September.
MS: If the option of ‘drugs’ is not allowed, I will choose the above scenario. Have fun working that out, Storey.
IW: Straight into the bookie’s back pocket, given my punting record. If it’s Storey’s money, I’ll put it on United and City to make up the top two.
JN: I don’t agree with gambling but if I had to do it to raise as much money as possible for a worthy cause, I would have a bang on Jurgen Klopp leaving Liverpool after a poor, trophyless season.
SC: Into my pocket, as my work for Doncaster Rovers Belles prohibits me from gambling on all football anywhere in the world. You are a terrible person for inciting me to break the law in such a flagrant and heinous manner.